Original air date: November 8, 1970
What would you do if you could guest star on an episode of The Muppet Show?
This was the question posed to many stars of the 1970s and ’80s when they were invited to be the guest of Jim Henson and his crazy collaborators on their iconic show, and most of them had a strong opinion. Many asked to appear with a certain Muppet, and some asked if they could write material for the show as well. It was a dream come true to so many celebrities that they made sure to have their own input.
I’m sure I’m not alone in imagining what I would personally do if I were the guest star – I’d want to be Kermit’s protege who will soon host my own variety show and is looking for some hands-on learning. I’d follow him around and try to resolve the conflicts he usually deals with, only to fail miserably and be in crutches begging Kermit to host my show, too, by the end.
So when head Muppet Show writer Jerry Juhl asked Glenda Jackson what she wanted to do, she didn’t demand any certain characters be her scene partner or pitch any ideas. This blew me away! She could do anything at all that she wanted to do. But what she did say surprised me, in a delightful way. She simply said, “You people know what you’re up to. I’ll do anything you write for me.”
And boy did they run with it! This, to me, is an excellent example of what the Muppet Show writers could do: Build a show from the ground up and make it wacky, wild, and an underrated classic.
What they built turned out to be a wonderfully fun ride through a Pirate mutiny – a Muppets on the Bounty, if you will – as Glenda Jackson turns out to be Captain Black Jackson! Years before Muppet Treasure Island, the Muppets tackled sea shanties and pirate puns galore as the Muppet Theater literally sets sail… I think. It’s hard to tell if Muppet canon allows for the theater to float, or if they were just special effects by the bucket-full. And speaking of Muppet canons, there are plenty of those firing away! It’s a great romp, and one well worth revisiting when (fingers crossed!) it makes its way to Disney+.
The anarchy begins after Glenda reveals her secret identity, and a giant Sweetums emerges as her first mate, Short John Silver. With other pirate snuck in through a hatch in the dressing room I’ve never seen before, they overthrow the show and use their crew as the entertainment for the evening. Fozzie can barely make it through one joke before he’s cut off for a giant musical number from the ship’s deck. As the whole theater sways and sways (at one point, very fatphobically blaming Miss Piggy for the swaying, in poor taste), The pirates influence all the other segments including “At the Dance,” “Muppet Sports,” and the closing musical number, a wild medley of sea-related songs. All in all, it’s a
Best Joke: After her hench-Muppets tie up Kermit, one of the pirates asks Capt. Black Jackson if they tied him too tight. Jackson responds, “No no no, his eyes were always like that.”
Worst Joke: “At the Dance” returns for the final time on The Muppet Show, so take your pick from there. Literally all stinkers. Bon voyage, “At the Dance!”
MVM (Most Valuable Muppet): A subtle but nuanced performance from Eric the Parrot, who gets into the Muppet Theater above suspicion by wearing a penguin disguise, could be the Muppet discovery of 1980. The idea of a penguin being welcomed so easily and then betray the Muppets is genius level for this troupe at this point. Big kudos to Jerry Nelson for all of that. I hyper-focused on this bird for sure.
Classic Moment: The thing about underrated classics in the pantheon of a top-tier show like The Muppet Show is that sometimes, even if everything is top-notch, other episodes and their segments were just more widely seen and loved. So I wouldn’t call any of the sketches “Classic.” However …
Should-Be-Classic Moment: Wow! I have a new favorite Jim Croce song in “Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues.” It’s got the classic Croce vibe, with hints of Randy Newman or Warren Zevon, and is a genuine bop. Not to mention the great performances by Gonzo and the chickens. Check it out!
Musical Highlight: The end medley of Rule, Britannia!, Sailing, Sailing, Anchors Aweigh, El Rancho Grande, and Dead Man’s Chest blend together well for an exciting and fun battle at sea performance onstage.
One More Thing: While watching the end of this episode, my fiancée noted that Miss Piggy doesn’t quite make it under the net and has to go back under at one point, and it’s really funny to watch.
Okay, One More Thing: THIS is the absolute best version of the Scooter puppet there has ever been and I will not rest until it is brought back.
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by Matt Wilkie